If your young readers are fans of the Little House books or any type of "westward-ho" narrative, they're bound to enjoy Deborah Hopkinson's A Packet of Seeds. In this picture book, Pa announces, "Folks around here are getting close as kernels on a cob." His wife doesn't want to leave her family and friends, and the book's narrator, daughter Annie, is attuned to her mother's unhappiness. When they finally arrive by covered wagon at their new plot of land, Annie notes, her mother asks: "This is it?" By spring, a new baby has arrived, but Annie's mother is too depressed to even name the child. As Annie thinks of her mother's garden back at their old home, she comes up with a way to help, remembering: "[Momma] says friends and flowers are a lot alike. No matter how bad your troubles, they gladden your heart." Annie and her brother Jim struggle to dig a garden for their mother, and it's soon ready for the seeds her mother received as a parting gift from her family. The new garden is just the right tonic for Momma, and she even names the baby Janice Rose, after her sister and in honor of a rose cutting given by their new neighbor. Hopkinson [a regular contributor to BookPage] provides a note at the end, explaining that she was inspired by pioneer narratives and by an article about pioneer roses. She adds that women traveling on the Oregon Trail are thought to have brought along about 20 different kinds of roses.
Bethanne Andersen's gouache and oil illustrations are executed in a primitive style that beautifully conveys the vast, empty space of the prairie. This is a perfect little history lesson for older preschool and young elementary students, a book that introduces the idea of westward expansion and gives real insight into human emotions as well.
Alice Cary writes from Groton, Massachusetts.